Review: Irish Literary Supplement, 2016
Salmon Poetry’s celebratory anthology highlights its list of Irish, American, British and European poets, all of whom represent the vibrancy of contemporary literature – distinct in style, voice, and geography.
35 years of poetry in Salmon's new anthology, in advance of a special evening of celebration at Smock Alley on November 12.
“The making of poems and stories, their mutual encouragement of one another’s work, that very difficult openness to all-comers, all testify to their being at the creative centre...” Thus wrote Patrick Sheeran in the first editorial of the Salmon International Literary Journal, which publication can now be seen as the well-spring of what would in time become Salmon Poetry.
As quoted in the introduction to this new anthology, Sheeran was referring above to the poetry workshops which took place at UCG’s Ladies Club on Saturday mornings in 1981. It was in that year that the indefatigable Jessie Lendennie, recently arrived from London, scented something on the bracing Galway air as she befriended fellow bards from the City of the Tribes and environs. In time the poet from Arkansas began to commit the poems she admired - and indeed loved - to the printing presses and found a ready audience in Galway and further afield, loyal followers to this day.
Thus readers got to know the early work of Rita Ann Higgins, Mary O’Malley, Moya Cannon, Mary O’Donnell, Joan McBreen and Eva Bourke. In time Salmon’s list would feature many more collections of poetry, and indeed occasional works of fiction and memoir. Writers such as the late lamented James Liddy and Knute Skinner -who is still very much with us - found a ready home at Salmon for their creative output.
Poets Pat Boran, Eamonn Wall and Kevin Higgins also saw their work published with Salmon. Louis de Paor’s first collection saw the light of day in 1983 and de Paor’s poem in Irish, Cluain, can be savoured on page 33. Following the brief of that aforementioned Salmon International Literary Journal, international poets, notably Adrienne Rich and Carol Ann Duffy, were indeed published in time by Salmon Poetry.
At her Cliffs of Moher base, Jessie works in collaboration with Salmon’s visionary book designer, Siobhán Hutson who has designed fabulous covers over the years, as evidenced by the cover of the book under consideration, reproduced below.
So many poets have had the benefit of Salmon Poetry’s care and attention that the index of poets represented in this anthology runs to almost three pages, aside from the extensive bibliography and biographical notes.
Many of the poems in the 480-page volume are new works from Salmon poets. The list begins with the begetter of it all and Jessie Lendennie’s elegantl poem, Misunderstandings, which takes its cue from the music of piano exercises.The contents thereafter are arranged chronologically, with reference to the year in which the poet in question saw his or her collection first published by Salmon.There is such a richness of performance that to signal anyone in particular seems a bridge too far. Signal we should, however, and Sarah Clancy’s Desire runs rings around me (and I don’t mind) is a sardonic, rueful poem of conflicted jubilation. Her point is not rounded and clear and all the better for its sly conundrum.
I love how women know things, I find them wise
And this is what the empty fool in me desires.
Kevin Simmonds’ marvellous poem Drain revisits the poet’s experience of religious piety, Padre Pio’s hands and their stigmata, and `a nun so pure/ she’d been chosen to bloodlet.'
I seek suffering like the shade of an arcade of oaks/ Still after all these years
Judith Mok’s touching, A Cold Poem can be read as a charming vignette about time passing with its unwitting cruelty. The poem appears to subtly track the changes that can occur in the duration of a summer camping holiday. The inevitable distance between a poet father and his future poet daughter - who has grown perhaps into a teenager since their last meeting - is established for the first time. Blood ties meet poetry ties, as it were and the poem opens with the mesmeric line` For me to reach my father's poem. 'Later the poet writes:
He was my father who lifted me up in his arms
It was not high enough:
John McKeown’s The Mask is graceful in symmetry and form, positing the notion of an imperishable mask behind the facial mask which we present to the world.
This is a mask which must be worn off,
along with its body, graceless as clay;
Caroline Lynch’s poem, The Match, is an Anglo-Irish agreement of like-minded sporting soul-mates. An Irishwoman and an Englishman bond over the rules of hurling and cricket and show each other how it's done.
Then I picked up
a sliotar on a flick of air held like a hurley
and pucked the tight wad of nothing: high, long,
over the cathedral spire’s great struts of Irish oak.
A celebration of Salmon Poetry’s 35 years of contemporary poetry publishing will take place on Saturday, November 12, from 5.30 pm to 6.30 pm at the Boys’ School, Smock Alley theatre, Dublin as part of the Dublin Writers Festival.
This much-anticipated event will feature readings from Seamus Cashman, Mary Dorcey, Jean O’Brien, Mark Granier, Colm Keegan, Mary O’Donnell, Maurice Harmon, Alvy Carragher, Anne Hartigan, Phil Lynch, Alan Jude Moore and Patrick Chapman. Free admission but booking is essential.
Review: EVEN THE DAYBREAK: 35 YEARS OF SALMON POETRY reviewed by Matthew Geden for Southword, the online literary journal from the Munster Literature Centre
Ireland has rarely, if ever, suffered from a dearth of poets, but it has frequently lacked outlets for publishing poetry be it magazine or book publishing. This has forced many of the country’s best-known writers to join forces with British and American publishers leading to a situation where such writers are less well-known in their own country than they should be. So, Faber publish Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Bernard O’Donoghue whilst Bloodaxe publish Leanne O’Sullivan, Rita Ann Higgins and Matthew Sweeney, and Carcanet have taken over the poets previously published by Anvil Press such as Martina Evans and Thomas McCarthy. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this per se, although how Brexit will affect them remains to be seen, it might have diluted the poetry waters here. Happily, this has not been the case and Salmon, along with Gallery Press and Dedalus Press, have ensured that Irish poets have a platform in Ireland too.
Salmon began in 1981 as The Salmon International Literary Journal based initially in Galway, meeting at the Ladies Club of what was then University College, Galway. Jessie Lendennie, editor and poet, served her apprenticeship at The Poetry Society in London during an infamous period in the 1970s when, under the guidance of Bob Cobbing, the Society repeatedly clashed with the British Arts Council. It is no wonder that Lendennie relished the rather calmer literary waters on the west coast of Ireland. The journal survived for ten years until it closed down due to a lack of funding but, fortunately, the publishing arm of Salmon kept going and, in fact, judging by this anthology is moving from strength to strength.
Poetry magazines, whether online or hard copy, are a vital bridge between the reader and the writer, also providing a forum for new writers to gain an audience. In The Salmon Guide to Poetry Publishing in Ireland, also edited by Lendennie, she notes that every “literary magazine has a certain ethos, stated or unstated” and this new anthology at nearly five hundred pages showcases a wide range of concerns but with recurrent themes and styles naturally reflecting the editor’s own tastes and interests. The first poem in the anthology is by the editor herself and appeared in the very first issue of the journal. The final stanza of this poem, ‘Misunderstandings’, is nicely paced and almost hesitant with the poet attempting to communicate amidst the rain and doubt:
Days that find me
light and shadow
clouds and doubt;
a stormy day’s
From a weak sky
This is a brave way to open a book of this size, but these halting lines give the reader pause for thought and that is no bad thing. In fact, such an approach is most welcome and preferable to the stridency and self-centred showiness evident in much contemporary literature. Some poems, such as ‘Peaceful the waves…’ by Mike Watts, are so slight as to almost shimmer and disappear in a heat haze, if such a thing were possible in an Irish summer. Elsewhere, the selection from the ten years of the journal includes more familiar names and even poems that have become part of the wider consciousness. So, for example, Thomas McCarthy’s poem ‘Ballot Box’ with its fine opening line:
Der Fallon took the black box in his arms
and stepped outside.
McCarthy’s poem somehow manages to negotiate a romantic breathing space amidst the darkness and “fate” that waits in the shadows on Election Day. Similarly, Greg Delanty’s poem ‘The Alien’ where the poet stares at an ultrasound to spy not a foetus but:
Our alien who art in the heavens,
Our Martian, our little green man,
Such poems, along with other fine work from Carol Rumens, Matthew Sweeney, Roz Cowman and Eavan Boland amongst others, demonstrate the importance a journal has in broadening the horizons of Irish writing.
The bulk of the anthology, however, focuses on the development of the publishing side of Salmon with a poem from each poet who has published a collection with them. I counted over two hundred and forty different poets which is an astonishing number and illustrates just what a dedicated and hard-working job Lendennie and her designer, Siobhan Hutson, have done over the years. Just under half of the collections are by female poets, a figure which, I imagine, compares favourably with other publishers in Ireland and Britain too. There may be few household names, with the exception of a certain Michael D. Higgins who has gone on to bigger and better things, but there are some notable figures here. Poets who published with Salmon in the early years include Eva Bourke, Mary Dorcey, Mary O’Malley, Desmond O’Grady and Theo Dorgan whilst in recent times Dave Lordan, Sarah Clancy, Nuala Ni Chonchuir and Adam Wyeth have all brought out collections.
In an anthology such as Even the Daybreak the sheer volume can be a little bit intimidating but, like the modern supermarket, there is at least plenty of choice. This book is a marvellous testimony to what a small but passionate publishing house can achieve. Ironically, their strength lies in their size and the fact that they have managed to retain control of their destiny without compromising on their belief in poetry and their championing of writers who would otherwise not have been heard. The writing here, like the editor herself, is open to new horizons and vistas even as its origins very often lie in rural Ireland. The hesitancy of the opening poem is, in the last poem of the anthology by Devon McNamara, replaced by a quiet certainty demonstrating the kind of journey Salmon has been on:
In the pub
the loud men say
you didn’t walk that far.
Salty, we know the truth,
outside, savor its
swart touch, before
we find the bus stop
in the silent town
grown silent ourselves
as if we’d been singing.
Born in England, Matthew Geden moved to Kinsale in 1990 and still lives in the town. He co-founded the SoundEye International Poetry Festival. His poems have appeared in several publications both at home and abroad including Something Beginning with P, Poets of the Millennium, The Backyards of Heaven and Landing Places: Immigrant Poets in Ireland. Lapwing published his Kinsale Poems as well as Autumn: Twenty Poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, translations from the French. His first full length collection, Swimming to Albania, was published by Bradshaw Books in 2009. A new collection, The Place Inside, was published by Dedalus in 2012.
“Literature needs great writers, but just as importantly it needs great encouragers of writing — selfless and undaunted initiators prepared to devote their energy to create vital outlets where new writers finally find an audience. For thirty-five years Jessie Lendennie has been such an encourager and instigator; a motivator, lynch-pin and unstoppable force presiding over the miracle that is Salmon Poetry. This anthology is a celebration of her journey, of Salmon’s journey and the journey of Irish poetry over this period when Salmon has been a vital presence in launching so many writers out into the world” – Dermot Bolger
Salmon Poetry, co-founded by Jessie Lendennie, started life in Galway with a poetry pamphlet, thirty-five years ago. Since then it has moved to County Clare and has become, as poet Eavan Boland says, “one of the most innovative, perceptive and important publishing houses in the UK and Ireland.” For the first ten years Salmon published a poetry journal and since 1985 it has published volumes of poetry – hundreds of them!
This anthology celebrates those thirty-five years by including poems from many of the writers, ordered in the book by the year they first published with Salmon. That’s 267 poets and nearly 300 poems! There are biographical notes on each of the contributors (several from County Clare, including Jessie herself, Knute Skinner, Frank Golden and Ilsa Thielan), and a bibliography of the volumes Salmon has published.
At 482 pages, it is a marvellous collection that is a joy to read. It is beautifully produced, with a stunning cover. If you enjoy poetry, it will be a lovely book to add to your collection. If you are an occasional reader, it will give you the chance to discover new poets from among the huge breadth of writers.